Thursday, March 13, 2008

Race Rears Its Ugly Head Again (and Again)

Geraldine FerraroImage via Wikipedia
OK.  I've resisted writing about Barack Obama for a while now.  And this post isn't so much about Barack Obama as it is about America and our obsession with race (and other ways of dividing ourselves).  I've gone from very hopeful in this campaign to cautiously hopeful and am bordering on the feeling of "here we go again", the same old politics will win the day.  And, in the end, while we bellyache and moan about wanting change, we, the American People, always fall for the same old political tricks and end up getting more of the same.  It's beginning to look very good for John McCain and four to eight more years of the same.

Just a few weeks ago as I watched the Democratic debates with Edwards, Clinton and Obama on the stage, I felt proud to live in America. (Not for the first time, BTW)  It was great to see that we lived in a country where a white man, a woman and a Black man man were duking it out for the Presidency of the United States and the results would be based on nothing but merit.  Actually, Barack Obama is not "Black".  He's bi-racial or mulatto.  But, there's no such thing in America. "One drop" and you're Black. Try to call yourself multi-racial and people think you're self-hating.  I hadn't allowed myself to dream that this country could be ready for a Black president or a woman anytime nearly this soon.  I thought perhaps the next generation or the one after that.  But, not now.  Man, was I pumped!

Ironically, early in his campaign, Barack Obama could not attract the Black vote.  Some Black people thought he wasn't Black enough.  Some Black people didn't want to waste a vote on a man who couldn't possibly be elected.  And, some didn't want him as President because they feared for his life.  But, as he continued to win the hearts and minds of people both White and Black, young and old, male and female, many Black people came on board.  The unfortunate thing is now that they have there is the potential for the backlash we are beginning to see.  The media (and the Clinton) campaign are starting to pigeon-hold Obama as the "Black candidate". That's political death to him if the label sticks.  Obama had transcended race, making it a non-issue in this campaign, but people who fear change are playing the race card.  Hillary Clinton, fearing a loss, is playing the race card.  It saddens and disheartens me.  I hoped we were past all of this.  It looks like we're not quite there yet.

I loved Obama's comments yesterday.  He observed that first, he was criticized for not being Black enough.  Now, he's criticized for winning too much of the Black vote (the Black vote the Clinton's counted on BTW).  "Just what is the exact amount of the Black vote that is the right amount?" he asked. In response to Geraldine Ferraro's assertions he's only where he is because he's a Black man, he showed his great oratory skills again by pointing out that the most intuitive road to the White House would not be to be born a Black man named "Barack Obama".

Is Barack Obama where he is only because he's a Black man?  Of course- in a sense. Being a Black man is part of who he is. And, in America, race matters.  If he weren't Black, maybe he'd being viewed as the second coming of JFK instead of MLK. He wouldn't be exactly where he is.  But, it doesn't mean that a man of his considerable and rare talents would not be in the race for President.   But, the same could be said of John McCain. He's only where he is because he's a white man.  He will get a percentage of the vote from white men (and from white women) who could never vote for a Black man (or for a woman for that matter).  Hillary Clinton dominates the vote of  White women over 50. Is anyone saying she only gets that vote because she's a White woman?  Geraldine's Ferraro's accusations were not meant as an innocent observation. Not every White man who votes for John McCain or every woman who votes for Hillary Clinton is doing so just because they want to see someone who looks just like them in the White House. And, not every one who votes for Barack Obama is voting for him simply because he's Black. As a Black man, I was hesitant to support Obama because of the perception I might be supporting him just because he's Black. The perception of others and my own, BTW.  I've studied this presidential election like no other before it. Most people vote based on a "gut feel".  Let's face it.  How many of us really sit down and study the issues and the candidates' positions on them every year? We usually vote because we like or don't like a guy and/or because of his party. 

Empty suit or not, Barack Obama represents real change to many people in this country.  Yes, partially because he is Black.  He represents burying the past.  He represents the fact that, in America, anyone can work hard and aspire to the highest office in the land.  Of course, some people are in love with that idea.  But, that is not  all he is.  And for the Clinton campaign to keep pushing that idea is an unfair and unflattering (to them) accusation.  Bill and Hillary are quickly and irreversibly damaging their reputations among many in this country, particularly among African-Americans by whom they were adored. Many of us affectionately called Bill the first Black President.

I told myself I'd keep this very short because I wanted to present a brilliant piece by Keith Olbermann.  It's gone longer than I would have liked. I hope you'll take the time to watch the clip.

p.s.  This just in.  A quote from the man himself.  I could not say this any better which is why he is where he is and I am where I am in spite of the fact we both have the obvious advantage of being 46 year old black men:
"There will be some voters for whom the fact I am African-American means I've got to work a little harder to make the case," he said. "In fairness to Sen. Clinton, there may be some voters who require her to work a little harder to make the case because she's a woman. But there are probably some who give me the benefit of the doubt because  I'm black and there are probably some who give Sen. Clinton the benefit of the doubt because she's a woman."

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